As the dust settles in the People’s House after the end of the 2013 legislative session, it is worth noting that the Vermont Legislature made some progressive decisions on a few key agricultural issues.
The most noteworthy measure was likely the passage of H.112, the GMO Food Labeling Bill, in the House by a vote of 99-42, which marked the first time such a measure had passed in a body of a U.S. state legislature. The passage of the legislation was made possible, in large part, by the work of the Vermont Right to Know GMOs campaign, a collaborative project of NOFA-VT, Rural Vermont, and VPIRG, which gathered the support of thousands of Vermonters across the state. Opposition to the bill appears to be largely over the fear of lawsuits against Vermont, which the Attorney General’s office said could cost the state upwards of $5 million.
While surely a progressive step forward, it should be noted that the bill has yet to officially become a law, as it has not yet been passed by the Senate and signed by Governor Shumlin. The same case is true in Connecticut, where the State Senate recently followed in Vermont’s suit, passing their own GMO labeling bill by a vote of 35-1. Unfortunately, progress on the federal level has not matched the leadership of Vermont and Connecticut, as an amendment Senator Bernie Sanders introduced to the Farm Bill legislation to permit states to require GMO labeling was overwhelmingly rejected, 27-71.
Vermont bill S.157, however, which legalizes the cultivation of hemp in the state, was passed by both houses of the legislature and is set to be signed by Governor Shumlin. Hemp is defined as cannabis sativa with a THC concentration of 0.3 percent or less, distinguishing it from the medical and recreational drug marijuana. Industrial hemp can be used to make paper, clothing, body care products, construction materials, plastic composites and more. Though it was once a popular crop in the United States, the federal government now restricts the growing of hemp because of its (misunderstood) relation to marijuana. Encouragingly though, there is growing support on both sides of the aisle to legalize hemp cultivation once again, and Senator Patrick Leahy has signaled that he will use his position as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to push such a measure.
The final major agriculture-related measure passed by the Vermont Legislature reformed on-farm slaughtering rules, to the happy surprise of Rural Vermont and others. Part of H.515, a catch-all agricultural bill, the new rules permit on-farm outdoor slaughtering without a custom slaughter facility, but under more tightly regulated conditions. It serves as a compromise between advocates for traditional on-farm slaughter and rules from the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service.